There are so many interesting and quirky facts about sleep. For instance, did you know that around 12 percent of people dream entirely in black and white? Or that the longest a person has slept uninterrupted is 11 straight days? Here’s another: Around 90 percent of people forget their dreams within the first five minutes of waking up.
A more common fact about sleep that most people know is the amount each person needs. Adults between the age of 18 and 64 require between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, while people 65 and over need seven to eight hours. However, a worrying statistic is that more than one-third of adult Americans (35.2 percent) do not get the required amount of shut-eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Much like nutrition and exercise, sleep is a fundamental component of a person’s health. Regular and uninterrupted sleep (of the right number of hours) contributes greatly to physical and mental health. Adversely, irregular sleep and sleep deprivation can have damaging health consequences.
Good Sleep Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
According to the CDC, getting the right amount of sleep each night allows the body to regulate blood pressure and decrease stress. Studies have shown that increased stress levels and high blood pressure are major risk factors for heart disease.
Bad Sleep Can Negatively Impact Weight Loss
Along with a balanced diet and regular exercise, nutritionists and fitness trainers will often prescribe adequate sleep as part of any weight loss program. While weight gain and obesity have not been directly linked to lack of sleep, it has been proven that weight loss goals are affected by sleep patterns.
Many studies have shown that sleep patterns directly impact the hormones responsible for appetite. Healthy sleep patterns can help the body regulate calories, while bad sleep patterns can interfere with the regulation of food intake.
Also, the quality of sleep can impact athletic performance, so good sleep leads to higher levels of energy, better performance intensity, more speed, and greater coordination—all attributes that can improve fitness and performance levels and therefore help to burn calories and fat. Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, means the body cannot exercise at its maximum capabilities, which will make weight loss more challenging.
Good Sleep Can Prevent Mood Disorders
Most people know firsthand how sleep and mood are closely connected. Good sleep can positively enhance mood and make you feel vitalized and mentally sharp. Meanwhile, bad sleep typically causes feelings of irritability, frustration, and anger.
More than just causing bad moods, though, insufficient sleep can significantly contribute to more serious mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. The relationship is not one-sided: anxiety and depression cause psychological agitation, which in turn can make it difficult to adopt healthy sleep patterns, leading to worsening levels of mood disorders. Studies show that difficulty sleeping can be the first symptom of depression, with 15 percent to 20 percent of people who have insomnia developing depression.
Good Sleep Can Strengthen the Immune System
Sleep is the time when the body repairs, recovers, and regenerates, with bone and muscle growth most effective at these times of ultimate rest. The same applies to the body’s immune system. Good, regular sleep helps strengthen the body’s ability to fight disease and infections.
Bad Sleep Can Cause Fatal Errors in Judgment
Sleep deprivation is not only harmful to you, but it can have devastating effects on others as well. According to the CDC, more than 6,000 fatal car crashes every year are a result of drowsy driving, while statistics from the National Library of Medicine for Biotech Information show that people with insomnia are seven times more likely to have work-related accidents compared to people with healthy sleep patterns.
Additionally, the NCBI reports that nurses working 12.5-hour shifts report committing more than three times as many medical-related errors than nurses who work 8.5-hour shifts.
Ways to Improve Sleep Quality
With so many physical and psychological problems caused by sleep deprivation, establishing good sleep patterns is fundamental to your health. Here are some ways to improve sleep quality:
Form regular habits: Striving to go to bed at around the same time each night can make a significant difference in forming better sleep patterns. This will help your brain and body get in sync and prevent inconsistencies in your sleep.
Exercise: Studies have found that 75 minutes of high-intense exercise or 150 minutes of moderate-intense exercise per week can reduce feelings of daytime sleepiness and can lead to better levels of concentration. This will help you to avoid naps during the day, plus rigorous exercise that tires out the body makes it easier to have uninterrupted sleep.
Therapy and meditation: If sleep deprivation is being caused by conditions like anxiety or depression, then seek professional assistance in the form of therapy. Experts will be able to provide support in tackling the psychological disorders that are contributing to insomnia—and vice versa—with proven techniques and medical guidance.
One Thing NOT to Do
Do not self-medicate. The NCBI reports that around 80 percent of Americans who take prescription sleep medication experience effects such as grogginess, oversleeping, and lack of concentration. These effects can only lead to worse sleep patterns and more unhealthy consequences. Always consult a medical professional for any sleep-related advice.